Lessons Learned From a Debut Year

Samantha M Clark sees her debut MG novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

Samantha M Clark sees her debut MG novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

One year ago today, I became a published author. And it has been an AMAZING year!

But it has also been terrifying, nerve-racking, confusing, overwhelming, filled with doubt, and many more.

As a debut author, I wanted the year to be perfect. I wanted to do all the right things, make the most of every opportunity, and was so afraid I’d do something wrong. I did a lot of research and made lots of plans and goals.

But all the information and planning could not have prepared me for the whirlwind of my debut year.

During all the fun times and hard times, I learned a lot. So on my book’s one-year anniversary, I wanted to share a few of those things, and I recruited some of my fellow 2018 debut authors to give their own thoughts too, because more heads are better than one. 🙂

There’s only so much you can control

The night before my book was in bookstores, I panicked. It suddenly dawned on me the reality of what was going to happen the next day. My book, my story, which I had worked on privately for the past eight years, was going to be out in the world. It had already been distributed to reviewers and librarians as an advanced reader copy, but this was different. Readers would be able to buy the book and check it out of libraries, and my publisher expected both of those things to happen. But what if it didn’t? What if no one cared? What if… I went pretty far done that rabbit hole.

The truth, I realized with a lot of help from my wonderful husband, is that I didn’t actually have control over anything that happened to my book after it came out. That’s scary on the one hand, but also quite freeing. If I can’t control the outcome, I can only do what I can control and hope for the best. I breathed, told myself to focus on what I can control, and repeated that often throughout the year.

No two publishing journeys are the same

I was very lucky to have an incredible group of fellow debut authors, the Electric Eighteens. We supported each other and shared our ups and downs. I couldn’t be more in awe of these people. But while I loved having all of them with me, it was hard not to compare my journey with theirs. Some seemed so far ahead of me, and it brought up all the bad thoughts: I should be doing more marketing. I should be doing more writing. I should be doing more…

But the truth is, every publishing house works differently and everyone has a different publishing journey. In our group, some people sold two-book deals, some people sold audiobooks, some people sold foreign rights. Some people were writing away while I was busy preparing for conferences. It’s human to compare—that’s how we judge where we are—but there’s no rule in publishing that says one particular path is the right or best one. Research your favorite authors, and you’ll see that some publish a book a year, others don’t publish a new book for years. Some are busy on social media, and others stay very private. In this industry, the best lesson we can learn is to not pressure ourselves to be anything other than us.

Remember why you wanted this

There’s a lot of pressure to be a marketer, social media guru, bestseller, but here we go back to my first lesson: There’s very little you can actually control. What you can control is writing the best book you can write. And that’s why you’re here and reading this blog post anyway. Sure, it helps to get the word out about your book and to do events, but we don’t spend hours and hours typing into a computer so we can post about it on Twitter.

Our love of story makes us writers, and no matter where the ups and downs of publishing takes us, we have to keep our focus on that—on story. On our stories, the many stories we will tell over our career. Because that’s what it’s all about.

And you never know who you’re going to touch with your book, someone you’ve never met before, thousands of miles away from you. Here’s a great Twitter thread about how THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST connected with a girl in Canada. So despite all the ups and downs, keep writing.

Here are some other thoughts from my fellow MG debut authors:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Your debut year can be one of the most exciting times in your life, but it’s also a good litmus test for your patience and determination.” ~ Brad McLelland, co-author of the LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“You don’t have to do EVERYthing to market your book. No matter what you have time for (and $$$) in terms of marketing, try to build in direct contact with kids who have read your book. It will remind you why we do this. That doesn’t mean you have to do a bunch of school visits. One kid at one book fair/signing is a wonderful boost.” ~ Anne O’Brien Carelli, author of SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“A debut year is a time of incredible exhilaration, a bit like hiking a mountain, especially when you reach the summit. But once you do, you’ll see many other peaks, and realize that you’ve just started the journey. That’s all right. Celebrate every accomplishment. Notice beauty wherever it arises. Then prepare to bring your dedication and spirit to the next peak, and the next. Remember always who your audience is, and how much your journey matters to them. Every time you stumble, remember that there are kids you don’t know and will never see bent over your book, unable to put it down, finding escape and meaning in your words. They will always be there.” ~ Diane Magras, author of the THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Remember that you didn’t write a book for everyone, you wrote a book for the right ones. Not everyone will like your book, and that has no bearing on your book’s worth–or your worth, for that matter.” ~ R.L. Toalson, author of THE COLORS OF THE RAIN (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Be kind to yourself.” ~ Saadia Faruqi, author of the MEET YASMIN series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

I couldn’t agree with all of these more.

When it’s your debut year, be yourself, breathe, and enjoy yourself.

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Samantha M Clark
Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of the middle-grade novels THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, ARROW (both Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster) and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House), as well as the GEMSTONE DRAGONS series from Bloomsbury. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can't she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who've stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com.
1 Comment
  1. I always love posts like this looking back at the debut year. It’s really helpful to know your tips on how to enjoy the year and recognize that there is a lot about it that we can’t control.